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Do not take a pregnancy test at work – A cautionary tale

A few weeks ago when I was silently weeping, sat on a public toilet in a small cubicle with a positive pregnancy test perched on a sanitary bin, this is the advice I wish someone had given me.

Don’t worry this is not a story of an unwanted pregnancy.  I couldn’t be happier to be adding another little person to our brood.  This is just a cautionary tale of when and where to do a pregnancy test.

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling like I had been physically assaulted but only in the general boob area.  I’ve never had any breast pain with PMT or in any other circumstance, so I was pretty shocked by it.  I put it down to sleeping a bit funny but there was a niggling doubt in my mind which I refused to listen to.  Sore boobs are an early symptom of pregnancy, right?  No, don’t be silly, you aren’t pregnant, you’d know (I’m not sure how I came up with this little pearl of wisdom for myself).

Cut to Monday, a colleague was rushing behind me on the stairs on the way out to lunch.  I broke into a half arsed attempt at a hurry and bounced down the stairs (my tender bosom did not appreciate this one tiny little bit).  My lame excuses to myself were no longer cutting much mustard and the much louder voice of reason was becoming deafening.  So, in my foolish way, I thought that if I just bought a pregnancy test alongside my Tesco meal deal I could silence the nagging voice and get on with my very busy day at work.

And this is how you find me sat in a cubicle in the office toilets, my own pee on my hands, staring at a positive pregnancy test wondering what the actual fuck I should do next.

Here is the learning lesson part of the story – if you are going to take a pregnancy test it will be either positive or negative.

Are you in a place in which you could deal with either scenario?

I had to go home, I couldn’t just walk into my next meeting and talk about user centred design and patient empowerment.  I needed to talk to my husband and quite frankly calm down.  I was in a state of shock.

 

If I’d have waited for only a few hours I could have talked to my hubby about how I was feeling, we could have nipped to the shops and found out together in the comfort of our own home.  As it was he got a rather frantic call from me saying I was coming home and I was pregnant.  I have to laugh at that, my poor husband did not see that one coming!

It’s a few weeks later now and the shock has worn off.  We are super happy and can’t wait to see what this pregnancy and this new little person have in store for us.

Where were you when you find out you took your pregnancy test?

How to tell the kids you plan to get remarried – comfort, encourage and celebrate

The whole concept of Daddy or Mummy getting remarried is a little strange for some kids. Most children’s films and books tell the classic story of boy meets girl. Boy meets girl, has children, splits up, meets another girl and gets remarried is not what Disney teaches us. Not that I’m knocking Disney – I would never do that.

For this reason, bringing the kids into our wedding and making it about them and our family together was extra important for us. We started as we meant to go on by making sure we put time and effort into how we told them that we planned to get remarried.

I know there is no perfect way to communicate with children. When we told them that we were planning on getting remarried we wanted to tell them 3 main things.

Comfort – Nothing is going to change.
Encourage – You can ask as many questions as you want.
Celebrate – This is going to be fun.

Nothing is going to change

Children from non-traditional families often experience more change in their lives than in a traditional family.

Our children started their lives living with Mummy and Daddy, when they were 1 and 3 Daddy went to live somewhere else. They starting to live sometimes at Mummys and sometimes at Daddys.  At this age it must be such a strange and confusing change to happen.

A year later they met a new woman (me).  In a few short years they had gone from living with Mummy and Daddy to living half of their time and Mummy’s house and half of their time with me and their dad. That feels really crazy when I write it down.  Certainly, for me going from being single to being a married woman with two step kids in less than two years has been a lot of change to deal with.

Oops, this should be a pretty picture to break up the textFor these reasons when we told the kids we planned to get remarried
we focused a lot on the fact that nothing would change.  They would still live in the same places and be loved by the same people.

You can ask as many questions as you want

The littlest one was only 2 when we got engaged but our eldest was 5 so understood a lot more of what was going on.  At the time we spoke to them we asked her if she had any questions and she asked a couple of questions and seemed quite happy. Daddy getting remarried did not seem to worry either of them at all.

Over the coming weeks we talked about it a few more times as a family and made sure the kids had a free reign to say whatever they wanted.  One day our eldest decided she was ready to face the big problem which had been troubling her.  If we hadn’t kept that conversation open for a few weeks I’m not sure she would have felt comfortable.  And it was a BIG problem.  Well, not really, but for her it was and therefore it was for us. “Are you going to smooch?”.  She does not like smooching, she turns away at the end of every Disney film with a big ‘Yuck’.

Oops, this should be a pretty cute picture of smoochingThinking about it, if every experience you’ve ever had of weddings was films you’d have a very clear idea of what a wedding is. Church bells and a smooch. We reassured her that it would be a full day of celebrating. That we would only really do one proper smooch in the church, it would not be the main thing.  This made her feel much more comfortable.

This is going to be fun

Children who have been through a lot of change may feel reluctant to experience new things. This made the fun element a key part of our message.  We were planning a big family party!  Music, cake, dancing, games, pretty frocks, all their favourite people.  This wasn’t just us getting married it was all four of us having a massive fun party.  This is what we did for the next 10 months while we planned the wedding.  The children were included in every step. They got to make and hand out their party invites, choose their party games, shop for their dresses and much more.  I’m going to write up my top tips for including your children in your wedding day as soon as I get chance.

Oops, this was supposed to be a nice party picture

Overall the children loved the whole experience of our wedding from when we told them to the day itself. I can’t recommend enough that if you are going to get remarried to start as you mean to go on.  Make sure your children are included right from the start. Make sure that you reassure them, allow them to ask questions and focus on the awesome family party that you are planning together.

Is your daughter a Tomboy or a Girly Girl?

Oops - I had a lovely crayon drawing here
Tomboy or Girly Girl ?

Let me be clear from the outset (before I anger you) I’m not suggesting we should categorise kids as Tomboys or Girly Girls.  I’m not sure exactly what a tomboy or a girly girl is to be honest? It seems the rest of the world doesn’t quite agree with me though. But is this an issue?

I’m a Tomboy aren’t I?

My eldest step daughter (6) said to me the other day :

” I’m a tomboy aren’t I? ”

Not really as a question, but more as a statement of fact. I told her she isn’t. She is a mix of lots of things like all people are.  She was quite insistent that she doesn’t like ‘girly’ things and so was a Tomboy.  At which point our 4-year chirped up with ‘I’m a girly girl, I like princesses’.

A Bit of Everything

Oops - this should be a picture of my lovely boots and heels
Who needs to choose – wear both

Personally, I think I can be summed up in one neat sentence ‘Walking Boots and Stilettos’. You may find me romping around the countryside with my dog in walking boots and waterproofs covered to the knees in mud. On the other hand, you may come across me glammed up to the nines with false everything stuck to me and really very large hair.  Actually, one of my most comfortable places is sat in front of a computer doing technical wizardry, which would previously have been thought of as a very male role. People are multifaceted, right? To be just one thing would be ever so dull.  So, while having a preference for things which are traditionally thought of boy things or girl things doesn’t define me. And it shouldn’t define our kids.

Why do kids categorise themselves?

The Science Bit

This is an interesting one.  I’ve learnt soops - this was supposed be a hilarious thingy bobbyo much on this topic by doing
some reading around in various medical journals and child behaviour books- it’s really enthralling (don’t look at me like that, I know I’m a geek)

It seems that from around 3 years old children naturally develop the skill of categorising. This is backed up by the UK national curriculum which encourages and develops this skill.  At first kids want to play with other children about the same age.  As they develop their grouping skills further they may decide that all girls are this and all boys are that.  It is a natural progression of distinguishing people.  At the stage when children are naturally grouping people based on age and gender it only makes sense that they will be more aware of their own position in these groups. It’s a natural thing for them to categorise themselves and Tomboy is just a word they can use for this.

As we get older we learn to group things in multifaceted, complex groups based on a whole host of things we learn and experience. Perhaps we learn that these groups are no longer necessary in order to make sense of the world? (In some cases, people obviously continue to judge based on broad groups but let’s not go into that.)

Does it Matter?

Well this is a contentious question if I ever read one.  People views vary widely on whether gender classification of young children is a damaging thing or not.  For what it’s worth (which may be very little) my opinion is that whilst it’s not the best thing to encourage gender stereotyping; we also need to be aware that our children will learn more complex ways of differentiating people with time.  This grouping is natural at a young age and my 6 year old classifying herself as a Tomboy is likely something she will grow out of.  As long as she knows that she is encouraged to be whoever she wants to be. That she is in a safe loving environment where being herself is always accepted, well that’s good enough for me.

What can we do?

Interestingly I came across this KickStarter recently on Twitter which dealt with this very problem (I’m not connected to it any way).  It aimed to create a childrens book in which the girl isn’t always the princess or the damsel in distress.  Now this is something I can get behind.  If my little one sees herself fighting the dragon rather than being rescued by the handsome knight then I want her to have something that she can relate to.  A love of reading is such a valuable gift we can give to our kids and relatable characters really help with that.  I’ve contributed to the kickstarter (which is something I very rarely do) and I’m really very much looking forward to the book.

Thanks to @ClimbingTreesTs for starting the kickstarter – Busting stereotype myths and empowering children to be proud to be themselves  book now on Kickstarter

Do your friends change when you become a parent? The Great Friendship Switch

Do friends change when you become a parent? I would have said no if you asked me a few years ago. However, since becoming a stepmum around 2 years ago, I’ve seen a massive shift in my friendship group.  My old group was a very eclectic group, singles, couples, professionals, arty types. A real mixed bag of people with a varied set of interests but very few children.  And then I became a stepmum.

The Great Friendship Decline

I wouldn’t say my mates ditched me but I think I could draw a pretty impressive graph of their decline over time as I became someone who stayed in lots and talked about children rather too much. In fact I think I will.

Don’t Laugh!  OK, laugh, but I’m not ashamed of my love of all things spreadsheet, the geeks will inherit the earth after all.

Don’t worry this is not an accurate representation of my friendship group I have not sat at home ticking people off on a spreadsheet as they lose contact (honest).  But it’s a good general gist. At first you don’t have a very sharp downtime, the kids are a novelty, people want to meet them and go with you to parks.  And then the decline begins, there are only so many times you can be invited out and say no before people will stop asking.  It’s not their fault, you just stop being part of the regular gang.  And I am under no illusion that I have indeed become a baby bore. I need to remind myself that no one cares what scores my darling little ones got on their spelling tests or that cute thing they said.

The Rise of the Mum Buds

I’m aware I am painting a very depressing story here but something miraculous happened at the same time.  Something which counteracted the great friendship decline and made the world a wonderful place.  The rise of the mummy friends! (Time for another graph don’t you think?)

That’s right!  The very few parent friends I had became a few more and a few more.  These people also had to stay in, in fact they invited us round for sleepovers.  They weren’t bored by my witty spelling test stories in fact they had equally engaging stories about their own little people.  And when their little people and our little people are playing we sometimes sneak a glass of wine and put the world to rights.  The rise of the kid friendly mates has been amazing and it’s not stopping.  Every kids party we go to, every play date we meet more kid friendly buddies.  We are the toast of the toddler town and it’s awesome.

The Golden Friends

It’s not that cut and dried though.  We haven’t just lost our friends and found new ones, we’ve kept some. These pre-kids friends who have transitioned over to kid friendly mates are priceless.  They are the ones awkwardly standing at your childs 4th birthday with no child of their own feeling a little uncomfortable but being there anyway because they are true golden friends (as highlighted by my highly artistic yellow highlighting).

Have a think about your friendship groups, have they changed since you became a parent?  And can you identify your Golden friends?

4 steps to create ‘Grow Your Own Sunflower’ Party Bags

This is a post about why I replaced the random crap in our kids party bags for homemade Grow Your Own Sunflower kits for under 80p. And how you can do it yourself.

You know the drill, you’ve organised a party for your little cherub, you’ve sorted invites, food and entertainment.  Now for the party bags.  In my experience party bags are comprised of:

1./ Treats – some kind of sugary goodness 

2./ Birthday Cake – which you hastily cut and wrap in napkins during the party

3./ Random Crap – mini yoyos, pencils, basically any small piece of plastic tat which will fit in (Quite often massively overpriced and a choking hazard).

Now I don’t think it  is morally right to remove either number 1 or number 2.  If you give a child a party bag without treats or cake in you are inviting a tantrum of epic proportions.  The random crap element is in my opinion open to intterpretation so this year for this my darling step daughters 4th birthday I took the decision to replace the random crap with a grow your own sunflower competition

Instructions

You will need:

  • Plastic plant pots
  • Sunflower seeds
  • printed instructions (printable below)
  • Sellotape
  • dehydrated compost
  • ziplock food bags
  • mini windmills

Step 1

Open the sunflower printable I have prepared – add your childs name in the blank and print as many sheets as required (there are 4 per sheet).  Cut the sheet into 4 and you have the instructions for each kit.

Tip – remember to print single sided.

Step 2

Get your seeds -I found a pack of 40 for £1.79 inc delivery from amazon enough to provide two seeds per pack (based on 20 kids).  Place two seeds on a piece of sellotape and pop on the back of instructions.

Tip – the paper has a tendency to curl inwards when you add the tape.  If you put the tape on with the paper across a curved surface (such as my adequately cushioned thigh) it will lie straight.

Step Three

Fill a zip lock bag with dehydrated compost.  The reason for using dehydrated is because it swells to three times it’s size when water is added so you only have to provide a small amount. I bought this one and used only a third of the bag (if that) so about 3 litres would be fine for about 20 kits. Add enough soil to roughly fill half into one of your plant pots.  Pour this into a jug and use this as a measure of how much to put in each bag.

Tip – use zip lock bags rather than the normal seal-able bags – no-one wants mud covered cake!  I bought mine from the local pound shop £1 for 30 (reduced to 30p because the pack was open!).  They seem quite expensive online so maybe shop around your local shops?

Step Four

Pop the instructions and seeds from Steps 1 and 2 and the bag of compost from Step 3 into a small plastic plant pot.  I bought mine from a local pound shop for £1 for 10 however I have found these on line for a similar cost (£10.42 for 10 inc delivery).

Tip – invest in some cheap mini windmills to add to your bags.  The kids at our party loved them.  We paid £1 each for them but I’ve subsequently found 24 for £3.97 here.

We gave out 23 of these kits in our party bags last weekend and they went down a treat.  I’ve had messages and photos from lots of the parents and the competitive spirit is certainly kicking in. Why not consider making them for other events? Weddings favours? Summer Party gifts?

 

What’s in a name? The ‘M’ word – Mummy

 

As a certain Mr Shakespeare once said ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ but some names have a very special significance and without a doubt Mummy is one of them.

When I first became a step mum I didn’t consider the children calling me anything other than my name. Well, it’s worked so far, I’m rather attached to it.  Then one day the kids grandma asked me what I wanted the kids to call me.  It was honestly the first time I’d considered it.  She wanted them to call me Mummy and I felt very, very uncomfortable about it.  I had to ask myself why it made me feel so uncomfortable and I think it comes down to basic respect for them and their Mum.

Imagine being the Mum in this situation, your relationship with the kids dad has broken down and you have split up.  You are having to wave your kids off twice a week to be with their Dad and it’s hard.  And then a new woman turns up. A new woman spending time with your children, reading bedtime stories to them, nursing them when they’re sick and cuddling them when they’re sad. This must hurt like hell.  Now imagine they come home and they refer to this woman as Mum.  The word which up until this point had been reserved only for you, the word which signifies your relationship with them and the bond you share. No, I will not have people encouraging them to call me mum because I have considered it from the other side and I want to avoid that pain for their Mum.

Don’t get me wrong, they do call me Mummy sometimes, it’s only natural as a caregiver who spends so much time with them but I just let it pass without comment.  I’ve discussed this with a number of other stepmums and the approach is very different depending on the situation.  A good stepmum friend of mine entered her little boys life when his mother was not around.  He was craving the emotional support a Mother brings and she filled this role for him gladly.  Some years later when his Mother re-entered his life he found it hard to call his birth Mother – Mum.

There is no rule for this kind of thing but as Mothers and Step Mothers it’s important that we realise the special significance the name Mummy has in our childrens lives and make sure we are sensitive their needs and worries.

What do your stepkids call you?  Have you ever encountered a problem with the ‘M’ word?

SMD XXX

Cooking for my new Instafamily

Let’s get this straight right from the outset, I’m a bloody good cook. I love cooking. I’ve been round for dinner parties at friends houses where I’ve been asked to take the food. My culinary expertise did not however prepare me for my instafamily.
The first time the kids came to eat at my house they were 2 and 5. I was told they don’t have a very meat heavy diet so I prepared a nice home-made vegetable lasagne. Who doesn’t like lasagne? Well when you can see all the ‘yucky vegetables’ then young children, that’s who doesn’t like vegetable lasagne. So I asked them what their favourite food is and I was told ‘pizza’.
For their next visit I spent the afternoon proving whole-wheat pizza dough and making tomato sauce from roasted and pureed celery, carrots, onions and tomatoes. These where going to be interactive pizzas. Roll out the dough yourself, top them yourself and then eat the delicious (but secretly nutritious) pizza. I was going to be the step mum of all step mums.
You can guess from this, I assume, that I was not in fact the step mum of all step mums. The kids loved making them, they couldn’t wait to eat them. However, when they arrived on the plate I just got a blank face and ‘Can we not have normal pizza’. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t heartbroken. Of course, I pretended in front of the kids but my best laid plans where well and truly scuppered.
I’ve got over these kind of problems now mostly. I’ve learnt how to be more child friendly with my cooking and the kids have really extended their diets. But funnily I was talking to the eldest about food recently and she said ‘it’s like when you made me the veggie lasagne and I refused to eat it’. I’d always thought that it was the food which was the problem but she has explained to me that she just didn’t want to eat my food. Not eating was a symptom of her uncertainty about this new woman in her life.
The lessons?
1./ don’t ever doubt my amazing cooking.
2./ The behaviour our little ones show to us aren’t always what we think. Sometimes not eating pizza really means ‘who’s this woman, I’m not eating her food’ and we need to try and read between the lines.
3./ don’t ever doubt my amazing cooking.

What are your favourite meals for the little ones? At 3 and 6 we are currently enjoying ‘pancakes’ (omelettes), lamb korma and keftedes (greek meatballs) but I’ve not attempted lasagne again yet 🙂

Awkward Turtles

Being a step mum has many joys but meeting the kids mum was not one of them for me.  It was without doubt the most awkward moment of my life. And I have had many awkward moments in my life, remind me to tell you one time about the very attractive man who didn’t believe in evolution . . .

My chap and I had been together for just over a year and the relationship with the kids mum had been fraught for a number of reasons.  I had been working up to inviting her and her boyfriend out for dinner but problems kept happening.  Every time I thought we were problem free enough to meet up something else would come up.  So we got to over a year in and had never met in person, which is weird right?

Now it gets weirder. My lovely chap proposed on the one year anniversary of us meeting – which was wonderful.  He did a great job of an understated personal proposal and I was on cloud nine. The ring he got me was stunning but just a little too big so we decided to go to the jewellers to get it resized and while we were there to look at wedding rings.  It was a great day out.

Cut to the awkward moment.

We are in a high street jewellers in a shopping centre and all of the sudden the kids are there, which weirdly didn’t shock me. I suppose I must have forgotten they weren’t with us? What actually happened is that the children walked past the jewellers with their mother and saw us, they came running in and their mother had no choice but to follow them.

Can you imagine a more awkward situation to meet the mother of the kids than while you are choosing your wedding rings?

 

It was the most awkward moment of my life and I didn’t know what to do.  I wasn’t polite, I wasn’t chatty, I just stared wide eyed and wide mouthed.  And then to avoid the awkwardness I talked to the kids.  I didn’t even say hello!

After she left, me and my chap laughed until we couldn’t breath.  We didn’t find the situation funny but we were in shock. We found ourselves nervous giggling all night.

There’s a moral to this story.  If you are in a new step mum relationship and you are putting off meeting the kids mum then don’t. You have no idea what the universe has in store for you. Your very own awkward turtle moment could be just around the corner.

Pink Pear Bear

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Happy Step Mother’s Day

It’s time to celebrate! I’m sure many step mothers out there already celebrated last week on Mother’s day but for many of us, Mother’s day is, well, just a bit awkward.  Mother’s day belongs to mothers and while we are of course mothers with all of the responsibility of caring for and loving our little monsters we didn’t actually birth the little blighters.

My Mother’s Day didn’t go so well this year because while I saw all my lovely mummy friends being treated and pampered I was squarely ignored. You may be able to imagine the dog house the other half was in last Sunday! This comes down to the ever present ‘But you’re not their real mum’ problem.  The life of a Step Mother can be challenging and we certainly have all the trials and tribulations and responsibilities of any Mother.  When it’s time to clean up the sick, coax for 2 hours for them to eat a sandwich, be woken up at 6am we are Mothers.

I’ve decided that  instead of focusing on not being treated like a mother on Mother’s Day, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that I am a step mother on Step Mother’s Day.  This is a day to celebrate not only the fact that we are mothers but that we are doing it under sometimes very difficult circumstances.  We have chosen our little people, we have come into a family (often with some problems) and we have stepped up to provide for those children.

So today on National Step Mother’s Day, celebrate! Celebrate being a step mother. Celebrate the things you have done, the sacrifices you have made, the joy you have given and the joy you have received.  Celebrate the family you have made.  You are doing an awesome job and you deserve to be treated.  No, you’re not ‘their real mum’ you’re their step mother and you should be god damn proud.

And yes – I will be expecting to be treated like a Queen this Step Mothers day. Ill let you know how that goes . .  .